Susannah spent the first seven years of her life in and out of hospital. Her uncle was an employee there. Susannah remembers him abusing her in her cot on a regular basis, from a very early age. This abuse set up years of ongoing abuse – from her uncle as well as future partners. It defined, for many years, the relationships she had with family members, teachers and herself.
‘Your concept of your family … when you look out from yourself, because you’re not right, is skew-whiffy. And the same when the family looks at you. It’s sort of like this … veil, like a bit of murkiness, that … you don’t come across as who you really are. And they feel that there’s something amiss, that they don’t know how to deal with, so you’re “different”. And need to be curbed or whatever.’
Susannah grew up in the 1950s in a large family. Her father was very strict and ‘regimented’. After her uncle’s marriage ended, Uncle Gordon lived in a shed at the back of her grandmother’s house. He would lure Susannah there and abuse her, even though she tried to resist him, up until she was 22 years old.
Uncle Gordon had a daughter, as well as foster daughters. Susannah knew that when he wasn’t abusing her, he was abusing them. Her grandmother, for example, used to send one of them to the shed to help him ‘bathe’. It always took a long time and Susannah found this traumatic.
When Susannah was 13 she disclosed the abuse to her mother, but was told she was fantasising and making up stories. ‘So I decided I was bad. I must be, because [Uncle Gordon] was saying that it was because he loved me and Mum and Dad didn’t have time to give me the love … so he’d do it.’
Susannah’s school teachers described her as a ‘dreamer’, ‘heedless’, ‘immature’ and that she should ‘try harder’. She couldn’t grasp mathematical concepts until she received private coaching during high school. She knows now that her early childhood trauma affected her brain’s capacity to make connections.
‘In some ways I’ve been successful and capable and other ways I’ve been … stumped … Starting things and not going right through with them. And not believing in myself … throughout young adulthood and motherhood, I … had fear in my stomach and really tight for at least half the day, which I had to overcome to function in the afternoon.’
In her twenties Susannah, became engaged to a man who loved and validated her. It was the first time in her life she had experienced this. Sadly, he died. ‘The conclusion I came to about that was that I was bad and he had to be taken before I ruined him … That changed my direction … and I married someone who was extremely abusive and … decided I must have done something to deserve it, or if only I had said this or not said that. It’s my fault or he didn’t mean it …’
Susannah left the marriage after many years, when she discovered her husband was abusing their children. ‘It wasn’t for my safety that I left. It was for theirs.’
Because of the lengthy legal battle that ensued, Susannah had to leave her job to be there for her children. Financially, she lost everything when she divorced and had to go on the pension. However, she is now successfully employed in the social services.
‘And I married a couple more times but they were abusive as well … They were only short-lived because I knew not to stay … I kind of got tricked, if you like, because I didn’t pick up signs I should have, until after … so I’ve decided not to be with anyone … rather than do that again.’
Decades after she was abused as a child, Susannah again confronted her parents about it. Although her mother still had doubts about whether or not Susannah was abused, she apologised for her brother’s behaviour as they had become aware he was a paedophile. Her father brushed it aside by saying it was all in the past.
Susannah received various forms of counselling over the years, which she found helpful. Her Christian faith, too, has given her an anchor ‘so I didn’t get into … alcohol and drugs and stuff like that, fortunately, but I’m not saying “Goody me” … I needed some kind of … third dimension to life, that’s what I perceive it as, which I think saved me from becoming a blithering blob of jelly in the corner of a room’.